Himawari House by Harmony Becker

Cover image for Himawari House.

Himawari House by Harmony Becker (9781250235565)

Nao grew up not fitting in in the United States, hoping to find a place that felt more like home in Japan. She had visited as a child, but now was going to be attending Japanese cram school. She moved into Himawari House, a house shared with several other students, all attending the school but at different levels. Nao discovers that fitting in isn’t as simple as a shared language, especially when she doesn’t speak it as well as she thought. Two of the girls who also live in the house have left their own countries to study in Japan. They all learn to find a way to connect with both Japanese culture and their own. Whether it is through shared food, watching shows together around a laptop, or reconnecting with family they left behind.

This graphic novel is wonderful. There is so much tangled in the stories of the three girls. Each of the teens is a unique person with specific experiences that led them to come to Japan, whether it was well-planned or almost a whim. They all face difficulties and handle them in their own ways, which tell the reader even more about who they are. Add in a touch of romance and their search for a place to belong becomes painfully personal and amazingly universal at the same time.

The art is phenomenal. From silly nods to manga style to serious moments that shine with a play of light and shadow to character studies that reveal so much in a single image of one of the characters, the illustrations run a full gamut of styles and tones. The language in the book is also fascinating, sharing the English mixed with other languages, changes in linguistic formats and the blank moments that happen when learning a language. It’s all so cleverly done.

A great graphic novel that explores finding a place in the world to belong. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by First Second.

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

Cover image for Little Thieves.

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen (9781250191908)

Vanja has a plan to escape the powerful forces in her life. It involves a string of stolen magical pearls that turn her into the princess and stealing a lot of jewelry. As the adopted daughter of Death and Fortune, she has only to ask for their help, but she refuses to be servant to either one of them in return. Abandoned by her mother to them, Vanja knows she can trust no one since everyone in her life has always betrayed her. Caught in a new trap where her body is steadily turning into jewels, she must find a way out of the curse before the month’s end and before she has to marry the violent and abusive margrave as the princess. She may have to start trusting someone after all.

This book is delicious. It is a mixture of thievery, cleverness, magic and betrayal. From the author of The Merciful Crow series, this is a new fantasy world which is beautifully detailed. Owen has layered royalty, elected imperials, inheritance laws, dark nightmare magic, forest gods, high gods, and one human thief. Untangling it all alongside Vanja is a true joy, the ripples of each discovery carrying through the entire tale. It’s a puzzle of a fantasy that is unique and very special.

At the heart of the puzzle is Vanja, who also goes by Gisele and Gretl in the story. Her brilliance at finding relative safety in a world that sees her as disposable is amazing. Her history of trauma rings so real, helping readers understand her lack of trust. Owen uses these twists and turns to great effect, surprising the reader along the way to the breathless ending where things are not as they may seem. Devastating and so smart.

One of the best fantasies of the year. Get this in the hands of feminist fantasy fans. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt and Co.

Me (Moth) by Amber McBride

Cover image for Me (Moth).

Me (Moth) by Amber McBride (9781250780362)

Moth’s family were all killed in a car accident that left her face scarred. Now she lives with her aunt, who barely acknowledges her presence. She goes to school where is also ignored. Moth used to be a dancer, movement was her way of expressing herself, but she can’t dance anymore. When Sani, a new boy, starts at her school, Moth is immediately drawn to him. Sani too is grappling with his own depression. He lives with his mother whose new boyfriend beats him. So when Moth’s aunt leaves her without even saying goodbye, Sani and Moth set off on a road trip together, heading across the country to Sani’s father’s home with the Diné people. The trip brings them closer together and they both discover the connections that were there all along.

It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, since it is done with such skill and confidence. Written in verse, so much is left implied and unsaid, unrevealed until McBride is ready for us to understand and the characters are ready to see it too. Combining Hoodoo Black traditions with Navajo/Diné, the book is filled with a deep sense of spirituality and connectivity to ancestors and those who have passed on.

The writing is exceptional, filled with moments that are breathtakingly and achingly gorgeous and others that are difficult and dark. The book is filled with wonder despite the difficulties both characters face. It’s a love story, of two people coming together through their families’ traditions, the way they are initially drawn to one another, and then a slow-building deeper connection they create together.

A book like a moth that will metamorphose right in front of you. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Feiwel and Friends.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Cover image for A Lesson in Vengeance.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (9780593305829)

Felicity is returning to Dalloway School after the tragic death of her girlfriend ended her previous senior year early. But it’s not easy to return to the ivy-covered school that is filled with dark legends that Felicity finds herself drawn to. The early days of the school date to the witch trials and five Dalloway students died early in the schools history, their deaths filled with connections to witchcraft. As Felicity starts her senior year again, she meets a compelling new student, a young novelist who is working on her second book. When Ellis reveals her book is going to be about the Dalloway Five, Felicity agrees to help her with her research. As the two research documents, they also form their own coven and begin to explore the occult. There is so much history filled with questions, and that includes the death of Felicity’s girlfriend a year ago too.

This book is beautiful and delicious. I love that it has its own distinct vintage style too, combining elbow patches and fifties sweaters with cell phones. The witch elements of the story are an invigorating mix of real history with existing covens but also may be covering up more realistic reasons for the deaths of the five girls. The setting itself is marvelously isolated and allows the characters a lot of freedom. These are wealthy girls, who flaunt their privilege at times and deny it at others.

The book is layered and complex. It turns from being a gothic, vintage witchcraft tale to something even darker. As Felicity’s mental health destabilizes, the truth emerges in fits and starts. The book becomes far more about the power of young women, the way society has frowned upon them gaining agency in the world, and what that means today. Beautifully, that doesn’t mean that the bloody nature of the book goes away. Far from it.

Dark, dangerous and delightful. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Press.

11 new october ya releases to wake your brain cells

Here are 11 great teen reads for your fall TBR pile. They have received plenty of starred reviews and praise and offer a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction titles. Enjoy!

Cover for Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Cover for Black Birds in the Sky

Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by Brandy Colbert

Cover for Briarheart

Briarheart by Mercedes Lackey

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

Punching Bag by Rex Ogle

Rise Up! How You Can Join the Fight Against White Supremacy by Crystal M. Fleming

Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narvaez Varela

The Woman All Spies Fear: Code Breaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman and Her Hidden Life by Amy Butler Greenfield

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Cover image for In the Wild Light.

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner (9781524720247)

Cash doesn’t have much in his small Appalachian town, but what he does have, he loves. He loves spending time with his Papaw on the porch even as Papaw struggles to breathe due to his emphysema. He loves time out on the water in his canoe, which is how he helped his best friend, Delaney, make a scientific discovery of a lifetime. Delaney uses that discovery to secure them both full scholarships to an elite prep school in Connecticut. Cash agrees to go with her, knowing that he will struggle to keep up and will feel entirely out of place among the rich students. Cash doesn’t count on the power of words and poetry to keep him afloat as well as new friends. But even they may not be enough when Papaw takes a turn for the worse.

Zentner is an award-winning author and his writing here is truly exceptional. In Cash, he gives us a natural poet who looks at the world through metaphors and connects readers directly to the beauty of Appalachia. Both settings, Appalachia and Connecticut, are captured with such astute clarity and powerful wording that readers feel as if they are there seeing the light, the trees, the weather, and feeling it all in their chests. There is also a direct emotionality to the writing that reveals Cash’s struggles, his self doubts, his loves and allows readers to see his path forward long before Cash allows himself to.

The characters push back against every stereotype. Cash is a deep thinker, connected viscerally to the place where he came from, and a deep feeler who connects directly to those he cares for. It is easy to see why Delaney wants him with her. Delaney herself is a scientific genius, full of sarcastic wit and a directness in her speech that offers just the right amount of offset to Cash’s rich language. The two best friends that they meet offer diversity to the story and also a clarity that prep schools can be full of interesting people worth loving too.

Brilliantly written, full of great characters and insisting that poetry changes lives. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.

22 September YA Books to Wake Your Brain Cells

Here are 22 of the YA books releasing in September that have received starred reviews and praise. You will find a combination of well-known voices and new ones to discover as well as some amazing nonfiction among the novels. Enjoy!

Cover for All These Bodies

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

Cover for Battle of the Bands

Battle of the Bands edited by Lauren Gibaldi and Eric Smith

Cover for Beasts of Prey

Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray

Cover for Before We Disappear

Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchison

Cover for Defy the Night

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

Cover for For All Time

For All Time by Shanna Miles

Cover for Hello (from Here)

Hello (From Here) by Chandler Baker and Wesley King

Cover for Kneel

Kneel by Candace Buford

Cover for Not Here to Be Liked

Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach

Cover for Once Upon a Broken Heart

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

Cover for The Other Merlin (Emry Merlin #1)

The Other Merlin by Robyn Schneider

Cover for Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People

Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

Cover for So Many Beginnings

So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow

Cover for Tell It True

Tell It True by Tim Lockette

Cover for Time Will Tell

Time Will Tell by Barry Lyga

Cover for We Are Not Broken

We Are Not Broken by George M. Johnson

Cover for When Can We Go Back to America?

When Can We Go Back to America? Voices of Japanese American Incarceration during WWII by Susan H. Kamei

Cover for When We Make It

When We Make It by Elisabet Velasquez

Cover for Where I Belong

Where I Belong by Marcia Argueta Mickelson

Cover for White Smoke

White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson

Cover for Wild Tongues Can't Be Tamed

Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora edited by Saraciea J. Fennell

Cover for You'd Be Home Now

You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Cover image for How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe.

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland (9781534448667)

Moon has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful sister, Star. Now Star is a Fotogram influencer, making enough money to have bought their family a new house. Their mother is ecstatic with Star but has always had problems showing any sort of love to Moon. Star has been offered a seat on a tour bus of influencers traveling the nation for the summer, and Moon is sent along as her photographer, a role she has played for years. Moon will also be the tour’s “merch girl,” manning the booth that sells items for the influencers to all their fans. Moon has been planning her escape to college after the summer and pockets her money for the meal plan to help pay for board at college, deciding to live off peanut butter and grilled cheese on the bus. But she hadn’t planned on Santiago, an impossibly gorgeous guy who is the grumpy and rude brother of the owner of Fotogram. He’s also the other person doing merch sales. It’s hate at first sight, at least until Santiago starts to share his talent with food and Moon starts to question everything that her mother has ever told her.

Incredible writing, a fresh plot and lots of character growth make this teen novel a pure joy to read. Gilliland has real skill with dialogue, making all of the conversations seem natural and realistic but also clever and sharp-witted. Throughout the book there are wonderful slow reveals of information, such as how Moon actually got her scar (she did not fall out of a tree). The nature of Moon’s relationship with her sister and mother is honest and painful, each moment scalpel sharp and devastating, even when Moon herself doesn’t realize how bad it is.

Moon is a magnificent Latina protagonist. She is not waif-thin nor muscular, moving through her life with wobbly and jiggly bits that she struggles to love. She is herself a gifted earth artist and someone with a deep and meaningful connection to nature. One that often leaves her covered in insects like luna moths, ladybugs and dragonflies, something her mother considers a curse. Moon is complex, acerbic, funny and immensely vulnerable, just like the novel itself.

One of the best of the year, this is a book to fall for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Blackout by Dhonielle Clayon, et al.

Cover image for Blackout.

Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon (9780063088092)

In New York City in the heat of summer, there is a sudden blackout citywide. Caught in the darkness are several groups of Black teens who all find themselves heading to the same party. There are couples who have already broken up and find themselves the only safe way to get back home. There are pairs who are not yet together but find themselves trapped on the stopped subway system. There are people in one relationship and longing for a new one that is right there. Told in loosely-linked short stories, these stories all tell the joyous tale of young Black love in the dark.

Written by six award-winning Black female authors, these stories are a summer delight to read. The authors have their own unique voices that all come together into a single book that really sings. Cleverly, one story bridges across the entire book, following one couple’s long walk across the city together. Each story shows romance in a different light and different stage, showing how even waning romance can be the beginning of something new and amazing.

In all of the stories, the characters are interesting and well written. They have personalities that stand out against the crowd of characters, taking the spotlight for a time and then allowing it to move on. The writing throughout is skilled, creating a book that is romantic, funny and a tribute to New York City herself.

A testament to the talent of the writers, this book is a great summer read. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.